Great Leaders Know When to Hit Pause and Engage

The vast majority of employees are disengaged from their work and you – not the CEO, the HR department, or someone else in the organization – are key to addressing the issue.

Don’t believe me?

Here are two findings from Gallup:

  • Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in their work. This means that, “one in eight workers — roughly 180 million employees in the countries studied — are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.”
  • A survey of 1 million workers indicates that the number one indicator of an employee quitting a job is his or her immediate supervisor.

You might understand this intellectually, but you have a tremendous obstacle to overcome in order to act on this information. You’re busy. Your time is consumed with meetings, phone calls, emails, and a vast number of time stealing activities. You spend your day running from issue to issue with barely time to think. This is a recipe for employee engagement problems.

Occasionally, you need to hit pause and engage your people. All me to provide four specific opportunities when you should hit pause and do just that.

1. Share Expectations; Don’t Assume Clarity

Imagine this. You catch an employee in the hallway and ask him to take care of something. He doesn’t quite know what to do, but attempts to tackle the work. You think you empowered him; he feels abandoned. In the end, you are frustrated with the results. He is frustrated with your reaction and begins to disengage.

Next time, hit pause and try this:

Instead of assigning the task in the hallway, schedule a time to sit down with the employee. Discuss what needs to be done, why it matters, and share your expectations for the effort. Allow him to ask clarifying questions. Then together, get clear on the resources needed and how the two of you will work together to discuss progress.

2. Remove Obstacles; Don’t Own an Employee’s Problems

One of your employees is working on an important project. She is struggling with a portion of the work. She catches you at the end of the day and explains the problem. You think to yourself, Heck I can take care of that. So, you offer to fix the issue and take it from her. You feel helpful. She’s relieved. Unfortunately, she misses a chance to work her way through an issue and learn something new. Unwittingly, she takes a step closer to disengagement.

Next time, hit pause and try this:

Sit down and discuss the issue. Work with her to brainstorm options, offer suggestions, and then allow her to select a path. Be willing to use your position to help her succeed, but don’t own the problem for her. If you take it, she won’t learn how to deal with the issue next time AND there’s always a next time.

3. Understand Motivations; Don’t Force Fit Incentives

In order to achieve a goal, you decide to implement an incentive program. Money motivates you, so you figure it will motivate your people too. You send out an email announcing your great incentive. Some team members latch on to the idea (money motivates them too) and they begin to do what you hoped they would. Others, who have other motivations, don’t get as excited about the incentive. They work harder because they know you are wanting a different result, but they don’t push themselves like you’d hoped. The incentive period ends and you give bonuses to the “winners”. The folks motivated by money are more engaged then ever. The ones who didn’t “win” start working on their resumes.

Next time, hit pause and try this:

Bring your employees together. Explain the goal you hope to achieve and ask each of them what they would consider a reward if the team accomplished the goal. You might learn that a few people want more money, but some may appreciate time off or an opportunity to attend a conference or training program. Then, design a program that is fair to all, yet tailored to the motivations of the individual.

4. Give Your Attention; Don’t Multitask the Conversation

I have a friend who says, “When a leader is multitasking, it means that someone is getting ignored.” She has a point.

Perhaps you have experienced times when an employee stops by your office. The timing isn’t good for you, but you allow the conversation to start. To be generous, you are less then fully engaged. You are reading email, thinking about an upcoming meeting, and ‘listening’ to your direct report. In all likelihood, the email can with, the meeting will come in good time, but the employee may chose to disengage you and the organization.

Next time, hit pause and try this:

If an employee swings by your office with a request to talk, give her your undivided attention and turn off the distractions. If you truly have a pressing issue that can’t wait, let her know that you want to talk, but the timing isn’t right. Explain the conflict and commit to a specific time to connect in the near future.

Then, guard that time and uphold your commitment.

What now…

I know you are busy, but sometime you need to hit “pause” and engage your people. Consider these three questions:

  1. What has caused you to NOT hit the “pause” button in the past?
  2. Who on your team is or may soon be disengaging?
  3. What can you do to today to hit “pause” and reengage them?


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash